Friday, September 28, 2012

Whadya Know? Vandalism Actually Works.

M.T.A. Amends Rules After Pro-Israel Ads Draw Controversy

I wonder what would happen if an offended Christian visited the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in New York with the intention to vandalize.  Would "Piss Christ" be taken out of public view?

Alan Watts

It may seem odd to find a fellow on the Friday list who was "defrocked" after only six years as an Episcopal deacon/priest, but Alan Watts was very much a product of his time who, sometimes indirectly, taught us much of what prayer and meditation could do in the contemporary age.

As with many of those whom I admire in the Episcopal Church [such as Muhlenberg, who was originally a German-speaking Lutheran, and Schereschewsky, a German-speaking European Jew], Watts came to the Church through a rather un-conventional route. Although, as far as I know, he wasn't German-speaking.

Alan Watts was born in London, England during the First World War and was baptized in the Church of England. As a boy, he loved the "Dr. Fu Manchu" stories by the writer Sax Rohmer [as did I when a boy, although I can't admit that too publicly as the Episco-cats now consider those works "racist"] which encouraged a fascination with Eastern religion and the occult, a fascination that became his life's work as Watts' intellect matured.

While still an adolescent, he published an essay in a reputable journal of Buddhist studies. After moving to New York City in the late 1930's, he continued his studies in Eastern thought while reading the works of Lafcadio Hearn, among others, and even sitting in counsel with Joseph Campbell, the well-known scholar of archetype.

He was ordained to the Holy Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church in 1945 and served for five years as the chaplain for Northwestern University just outside of Chicago.

Why, you might wonder, did a man of intellect with specific interest in Asian religion and philosophy seek ordination as a Christian, not to mention an Episcopalian? Well, that's the interesting part.

Clearly, having been raised in the Church of England, Watts was comfortable with Anglican/Episcopal theology and worship. That's one portion of the answer. Another is that the Anglican/Episcopal tradition has always been one of scholarship and academic orientation. To be ordained in the Episcopal Church, one must have at least a master's degree or its equivalent; have a working knowledge of at least one Biblical language, and a familiarity with the lively arts. Certainly, anyone who reads the "Heroes" postings or those concerning the Anglicans/Episcopalians who make up the lesser feast days will note the overtone of academic achievement. A parish may see its rector as that person who fixes the toilet, re-sets the parish house door, and rakes the yard, but he/she is also someone who has published academic and other articles and earned at least one, and perhaps multiple, graduate and post-graduate degrees.

But, there is another reason, and that's what makes Watts story interesting to me, as it also displays something that may be lacking in the contemporary church; something that might explain its current lassitude.

Watts' fascination was with ritual, Eastern or otherwise. While he was living in New York, he worshiped at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the Times Square area. It is still there, and the place where I worship on those stray Sundays off when I happen to be in the city. St. Mary's, which is also known as "Smokey Mary's" due to its famous use of great amounts of incense, is an Episcopal Church that upholds like no other the "high church" tradition of Anglicanism. During worship, the lections are chanted, as is the liturgy itself, the music is of a lofty and very traditional standard, and the liturgical action coordinated to bring a sense of spiritual mystery and wonder to every aspect. It is not for those who find church attendance a distraction on their way to their kids' soccer game.

Watts had never experienced the like in a Western religious setting and realized that there were common elements to human spiritual expression that need not be constrained by cultural barriers or labels such as "East" or "West". This realization lead him to continue his studies within the Episcopal Church and to serve as a very interesting university chaplain. He was deposed [the actual canon law term for the vulgar "defrocked"] as his wife left him and sued for divorce. Yes, in Watts' day, Episcopal clergy could not be divorced. For personal reasons, I find that notion amusing.

His time as an Episcopal priest did produce a very interesting work, Myth and Ritual in Christianity; a book that explains in an uncommon manner the intention behind the things we do in church. It's one of my favorites.

After being liberated from the Episcopal Church, Watts' became the first scholar to effectively present Eastern philosophy to Western audiences. He wrote seemingly countless books and articles.  He was published in everything from scholarly journals to Redbook and Playboy.  He rubbed shoulders with everyone from the composer John Cage to the psychiatric icon C.G. Jung. He met Jack Kerouac and is a character in one of his novels. He still has an eponymous website, found here, where much more may be read.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday's Prayer

O God, listen to my prayer
Let my earnest petition come to you,
for I know that you are hearing me
As surely as though I saw you with mine eyes.

I am placing a lock upon my heart,
I am placing a lock upon my thoughts,
I am placing a lock upon my lips
And double-knitting them.

Aught that is amiss for my soul
In the pulsing of my death,
May you, O God, sweep it from me
And may you shield me in the blood of your love.

Let no thought come to my heart,
Let no sound come to my ear,
Let no temptation come to my eye,
Let no fragrance come to my nose,
Let no fancy come to my mind,
Let no ruffle come to my spirit,
That is hurtful to my poor body this night,
Nor ill for my soul at the hour of my death;

But may you yourself, O God of life,
Be at my breast, be at my back,
You to me as a star, you to me as a guide,
From my life's beginning to my life's closing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Headline Of The Week

Garba time for Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadda I have no idea what this means, but I love it.

Archaeological News

Professor to teach archaeology and Biblical studies at Beijing University

As the article notes, this is a first for Communist Chinese scholarship.  A rather remarkable moment, actually, that will be entirely missed by the media as they are busy with the American election.

[Yes, especially as they are too busy to note that China and Japan are on the verge of war and that our Middle Eastern policy is, to put it politely, a tad ébouriffé.]

An Obituary Of Note


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cleveland's Own

Tuesday's Quotation

We do not, of course, any of us, nearly thank God enough. I fear that what will surprise us most, when we see our Lord, will be the extent of our own ingratitude. - Edward B. Pusey

Monday, September 24, 2012

Would Have Been Easier Just To List What Was Correct In The Article

A posting on August 20, “Dating Tales of a Church Girl: My Epic Christian Online Dating Fail,” in which the author described her experiences as a member of a dating website, has been removed because it contained numerous factual inaccuracies, including her purchase of a one-year membership at the site, the cost of that one-year membership, her description of her experience on the site, and the substance of emails and photos she received from other members.

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

September 25: Sergius of Moscow [1314-1392]

While Western Christians have little knowledge of the abbot/farmer, he is the patron saint of Moscow and is much revered in the Russian Orthodox Church.  Like many of the "old-time" saints, he has a feast day on our calendar inherited from before our church's 16th Century split from the Church of Rome.

Sergius' power over Christian imagination is due not to his ferocity, self-humiliation, or academic degrees; he was known for his personality and humility, even to the extent of refusing to be named Metropolitan [that is, archbishop] of Moscow as he would have to wear an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary suspended by, and here's the point of controversy for Sergius, gold chains.

As he noted at the time:

"From my youth up, I have never possessed or worn gold, and how now can I adorn myself in my old age?"

Much more of him may be found at the link that marks the quotation.

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Sergius of Moscow, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 26: Lancelot Andrewes [1555-1626]

Portrait of Andrewes
Once upon a time, bishops were true scholars with degrees in subject areas of which people outside of the church had actually heard.  Andrewes was one such bishop/scholar, and the one who has had more influence over our understanding of the Bible than anyone else in the Western Church.  Think I exaggerate?  Andrewes was a polyglot who was fluent in 21 languages.  His ability in English was so sublime that, had it not been for his particular, and rather staggering achievement, he would have been remembered as one of the church's great poets.  This is high praise, as he was a contemporary of Christopher Marlow, Ben Jonson, and, oh, yes, William Shakespeare.

With his linguistic talent, artful ability to write clearly, and political savvy, Andrewes was the ideal man on whom to call to lead a large collection of scholars charged with a singular responsibly.  Namely, translate the entire Holy Bible into a lucid and linguistically accurate English.  His patron for this was King James I of England [and, as I learned in school in gloomy Edinburgh, James VI of Scotland].

The finished product is the King James Version of the Holy Bible, or simply the KJV.

More of Bishop Andrewes may be found here.  More of the KJV and its considerable influence may be found anywhere Bibles are sold, discussed, or, in particular, read aloud.

Lord and Father, our King and God, by your grace the Church was enriched by the great learning and eloquent preaching of you servant Lancelot Andrewes, but even more by his example of biblical and liturgical prayer: Conform our lives, like his, to the image of Christ, that our hearts may love you, our minds serve you, and our lips proclaim the greatness of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Every Continent But One

In the past month, The Coracle has been read by people on every continent except for Antarctica.

In order to address that, please forgive this "Google guerrilla" moment: Kim Kardashian + bikini + Ernest Shackleton + Admiral Byrd.

Now, if that doesn't bring in readers from the South Pole, nothing will.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Used To Play Bass For Robot Tuna

Robot Tuna joins Homeland Security

Fair Play

Religious groups are blasting President Obama for not condemning an anti-Christian art display set to appear in New York City and one Republican lawmaker said he is “fed up with the administration’s double standard and religious hypocrisy.

“Piss Christ,” once branded as a “deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity,” will be displayed at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in Manhattan on Thursday. The artwork features a “photograph of the crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.”

The artwork debuted in 1989 and was funded through prize money provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

[Sarcasm alert.] You proles and rubes just don't understand art; that's what the problem is.

That and Christians tend not to come to art galleries with rocket-propelled grenades or with the intention to behead.  Clearly, that's how you gain religious respect from a government.

I foresee interesting ecumenical conversations in the near future with these excitable folks:

"Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on Friday said the blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was unacceptable under any circumstances and demanded the world community to declare sacrilege a global crime."


“It is not good enough to say it’s free speech, it should be allowed. I think if this does provoke action against American citizens or Americans anywhere else in the world, then maybe we do need to rethink how much freedom is OK."

However, if they have a good pension fund, I may be willing to "swim the Sinai".  I could be Mullah Bob.  Any religion that can gain that much attention and support from a religion-free democracy may be on to something, although I imagine members of the US Foreign Service might feel differently.

Still more:

"What other entertainments have senior U.S. officials reviewed lately? Last year Hillary Clinton went to see the Broadway musical "Book of Mormon." "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others"? The Book of Mormon's big showstopper is "Hasa Diga Eebowai," which apparently translates as "F*** You, God." The U.S. Secretary of State stood and cheered.

Why does Secretary Clinton regard "F*** You, God" as a fun toe-tapper for all the family but "F***, You Allah" as "disgusting and reprehensible"? The obvious answer is that, if you sing the latter, you'll find a far more motivated crowd waiting for you at the stage door. So the "Leader of the Free World" and "the most powerful man in the world" (to revive two cobwebbed phrases nobody seems to apply anymore to the president of the United States) is telling the planet that the way to ensure your beliefs command his "respect" is to be willing to burn and bomb and kill. You Mormons need to get with the program.

Meanwhile, this past week has seen the publication of two controversial magazines in France: One, called Closer, showed Prince William's lovely bride, the Duchess of Cambridge, without her bikini top on. The other, the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, showed some bloke who died in the seventh century without his bikini top on. In response, a kosher grocery store was firebombed, injuring four people. Which group was responsible? Yes, frenzied Anglicans defending the honor of the wife of the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England rampaged through Jewish grocery stores, yelling, "Behead the enemies of the House of Windsor!" The embassy-burning mobs well understand the fraudulence of Obama and Clinton's professions of generalized "respect" for "all faiths." As a headline in the Karachi Express-Tribune puts it:

"Ultimatum To U.S.: Criminalize Blasphemy Or Lose Consulate."

The U.S. Suffered Its Worst Airpower Loss Since Vietnam Last Week and No One Really Noticed

Eight irreplaceable aircraft (the AV-8B has been out of production since 1999) have been destroyed or put out of action – approximately 7 percent of the total flying USMC Harrier fleet. Worse yet, the aircraft involved were the AV-B+ variant equipped with the APG-65 radar and AAQ-28 Litening II targeting pods – the most capable in the force. Given the current funding situation, it’s likely that the two damaged AV-8Bs will become spare parts “hangar queens” and never fly again. A Harrier squadron commander is dead, along with another Marine. Another nine personnel have been wounded, and the nearby Marines at Camp Freedom are now without effective fixed-wing air support. The USMC’s response to this disaster will be a telling report card on its leadership and organizational agility.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fortunately, Scotland Has Strict Pudding Control

A 47-year-old man has appeared before Perth Sheriff court accused of causing fear and alarm by being aggressive with a black pudding.


Last year I tore the cartilage in my knee.  It required surgery which, in turn, required that I use crutches and a cane for about a month or so.  What was once a simple walk from the rectory to the parish became a rather laborious trek.  It was also, at least initially, a little exhausting.  Instead of walking, I found myself having things e-mailed to me from an office 50 or so feet away.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have Parkinson's Disease and decide to translate the Holy Bible into the native languages of China with only the full use of one finger and using a turn of the century typewriter that required about twenty pounds of pressure to move a key.  However, that was the achievement of our Friday fellow, who served in the early 20th century as our bishop in Shanghai.

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky [his name always sounded to me like the title of a Tom Lehrer song], who lived from 1831 to 1906, was an Episcopal Church missionary to China at a time when most missions were funded by the missionary's wealthy family or trust fund. 

[Rather like most of the "bi-vocational" clergy who serve as the "new" model for ministry, at least according to the still-existent (!) House of Bishops.  This notion amuses me as I have never, in my entire career as a full-time clergyman, been able to afford to have fewer than two jobs at any one time, but I digress.] 

He was unusual in that he was born and raised a Jew, had studied to be a rabbi, and, after studying the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, converted to Christianity, studied at the original General Theological Seminary [I actually lived in what had been his room], and gained ordination in the Episcopal Church.  Since he was an orphan, I'm guessing that he didn't have to face much in the way of a shocked and disapproving family. 

Since Schereschewsky had neither wealth nor a trust, he sought patronage for his work and found an innovative manner of raising funds by using his considerable intelligence and industry in translating scripture for use by other China missionaries.   As he was fluent in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Polish, and Russian, the Chinese dialects did not offer him much resistance.  What did offer resistance was the crippling condition of his hands; a resistance that he overcame through pure stubbornness aided by faith. 

In addition to his translations, Schereschewsky founded St. John's University of Shanghai, an institution of considerable quality and reputation that existed until it was "re-purposed" by the Communists in the early 1950's.

Although he has his own feast day, and it may seem redundant to also feature Schereschewsky on a Friday, I offer him today as I've always felt some kinship with him, and not just because we shared a dorm room some 120 years apart.  Historically, the Episcopal Church's clergy have almost always been from the more elite portions of our society.  It was difficult in earlier times for those of no money and little pedigree to find a place in the church, let alone become ordained.  Schereschewsky cleared that hurdle through intellect and faith, not to mention prodigious hard work.  The stubborn Christianity that still exists in the "Godless" paradise of Communist China owes its life to his work.  As such, he serves as a model to those of us from modest origins; reminding us that when God calls, even the most unlikely of candidates can find a place, a role, a responsibility in the Church if we are willing to simply bring to it our positive and hopeful response. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well, This Is Interesting

Portrait of a Modern Feminist This may also explain the absence of men from congregations.

The Terrorists’ Veto

Around the world, a campaign of religious intimidation and murder intensifies.

Goodness, There Are A Lot Of People Who Wish This To Be True

Alas, it appears to be another "James' Ossuary" episode, familiar to anyone who came to our parish's Biblical Archaeology discussions.

For instance, the Archaeological Institute of America won’t publish articles about antiquities whose provenance is unknown. And it’s not just about not wanting to fuel the illicit trade but also because looting antiquities without benefit of their historical context also robs scholars of a wealth of information.

The article ends with the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo saying that the fragment was never heard of before this week and that, as a researcher, he doesn’t think it’s authentic since there would have been some mention of it. I’m sure we can squeeze a few more stories out of this before we all move on to whatever the next story that will destroy Christianity is.
And I’m sure — absolutely sure — that all of those media outlets that talked about Jesus’ wife will be explaining all of this with equal prominence.

Thursday's Prayer

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all, take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore thee,
a heart to delight in thee,
to follow and to enjoy thee,
for Christ's sake.
                                                                - Ambrose of Milan, 339-97

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What He Said

"It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures," Justice Tom C. Clark wrote in Joseph Burstyn Inc. v. Wilson (1952).

An Interesting Book & It's Review

Douthat’s history and critique of both approaches are fascinating. But more relevant for our predicament today is the analysis of the alternatives to traditional Christian churches, what Douthat calls “bad religion,” which comprises the bulk of his book. These are the various “heresies” that attracted Americans whose religious needs hadn’t faded away into the secularism, humanism, or atheism that religious conservatives feared and liberals celebrated as the consequence of Christianity’s decline.

These heresies arose across the cultural spectrum, from academic research to the “prosperity gospel” that reaches millions through television, bestselling books, and the Internet. For example, the hype in 2006 over the discovery of the ancient Gnostic Gospel of Judas made extravagant claims about its influence in the development of Christianity and the light it shed on “how diverse and fascinating the early Christian movement really was,” as one scholar claimed.

Yet more careful study revealed that dubious dating, tendentious interpretations of the text, and a bad translation of the document had shaped it to create a more modern Jesus, one more attractive to a sensibility eager for a non-judgmental spiritualism defined by therapeutic self-actualization. The same occurred with other “real Jesus” scholars and popularizers like best-selling novelist Dan Brown. Their anti-orthodox Redeemer looks suspiciously like a blue-state Unitarian Democrat.

I Didn't Comment On This Before Because, Well, It Seemed A Little Weak

Scholars on Wednesday questioned the much-publicized discovery by a Harvard scholar that a 4th century fragment of papyrus provided the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married.

And experts in the illicit antiquities trade also wondered about the motive of the fragment's anonymous owner, noting that the document's value has likely increased amid the publicity of the still-unproven find.

Every decade seems to present some new "evidence" that seeks to make Jesus relevant to contemporary people. It's often exaggerated. Not that it matters to people of faith one way or the other, of course.

What He Said

If Christians in the south rioted over Bill Maher’s anti-religion movie, this would be a lesson about the necessity of Free Speech in the face of protests, with a whiff of amused contempt about the excitable yahoos. If Christians in Africa rioted over the movie, there would be a more nuanced response, because of the horrors of colonialism are a chock that stops whatever remains of the Western press’ moral sense, and also the general who-knows-who-cares attitude towards Africa you get anywhere but the BBC. I mean, it’s a mess. Put it on A6. If Christians in China rioted over the movie, it would be a story about the government’s difficulty to control information in the Internet age, and there’d be a reference to the Falun Gong crackdown, and it would all peter out with a quote from someone in a college office somewhere.

Can’t quite imagine Buddhists rioting over it. Can’t quite imagine Hindus giving a rancid fig for Bill Maher’s opinion. Can’t imagine Copts or Zoroastrians or devotees of Odin pounding the table and shouting THIS SHALL NOT STAND and marching off with a gun to set things right. For that matter, can’t imagine Christians in the South, Africa, or China deciding that the rest of the day shall be devoted to yelling about the existence of a movie written and performed by a comedian who’s just got religion’s number, totally, like no one else ever.

Archaeological News

Syria’s Looted Past: How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday's Quotation

There are few who have not their idols, which their hearts adore, in which they put their trust, and place their happiness. The worst of all is ourselves. - Thomas Wilson (1663-1755)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Believe It Or Not, Today Is Constitution Day

If George Hanson Could See Us Now

Homeowners sue over playhouse

In Easy Rider, Hanson (as played by Jack Nicholson) notes, "This used to be a hell of a good country."

This Week's Feast Days

September 17: Hildegard of Bingen [1098-1179]

Hildegard of Bingen, from the Rupertsberger Codex  One of the most significant women in the history of Medieval Christianity and certainly deserving of a date on the feast calendar [even if her inclusion did appease one of the many political sub-divisions in the Episcopal Church].  This quotation sums up her theology rather nicely:

"Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God."

While she is primarily recognized for her visions, she was also one of the most educated women of her time and contributed mightily to the life of the mind on which Anglican/Episcopal Christianity is centered.

More of her may be read here.

God of all times and seasons: Give us grace that we, after the example of your servant Hildegard, may both know and make known the joy and jubilation of being part of your creation, and show forth your glory not only with our lips but in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 18: Edward Bouverie Pusey [1800-1882]

There was quite a dispute within the Church of England in the early 19th century.  To make a long, involved story terribly short, the "high church" elements that had been brutally eradicated some 300 years before were beginning to make a comeback, especially as many of the younger clergy found value in acts of obvious devotion.  These included, but are not limited to, anything to appears to a newcomer to our own parish as "catholic" in nature. 

This came to be called the Oxford Movement.  If you click on the link, you may read a brief history of the event written by my favorite writer.

Since young clergy are often ignored, they needed some senior members of the Holy Orders to speak for them in the halls of power.  One of them was Pusey, who was, up to that point, a rather fussy, dusty professor of Hebrew.  Many were surprised to discover that, when facing a challenge, he was also a bit of a fire-eater.

More of him and his compatriots may be found here.

Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant Edward Bouverie Pusey, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 19: Theodore of Tarsus [602-690]

It's hard to believe that what drove the first and hardest fissure into Christianity was a dispute over how to calculate the date of Easter, but that was the case.  This dispute festered for some centuries until The Great Schism between the Eastern and Western traditions was realized in 1054.  In its earliest rumblings, much of the dispute was made dormant by the sagacity of a monk who, through sheer happenstance, became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Bishop of Rome was to appoint a new Archbishop, you see, but the candidate died from an illness contracted while travelling from England to Rome.  The Pope then chose an older candidate [65] from the hometown of St. Paul.  An unusual choice, many thought, but one that proved to be perfect.

Much more of Theodore may be read of here.  Please do so, as it's a good story.

Almighty God, you called your servant Theodore of Tarsus from Rome to the see of Canterbury, and gave him gifts of grace and wisdom to establish unity where there had been division, and order where there had been chaos: Create in your Church, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, such godly union and concord that it may proclaim, both by word and example, the Gospel of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 20: John Coleridge Patteson [1827-1871]

A martyr, although in an indirect manner.  Nevertheless, through his sacrifice, Bishop Patteson helped to end the illegal slave trade in the Pacific islands.  More of his life and death may be read of directly here and less so here.

Almighty God, you called your faithful servant John Coleridge Patteson and his companions to be witnesses and martyrs in the islands of Melanesia, and by their labors and sufferings raised up a people for your own possession: Pour out your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many, your holy Name may be glorified and your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

September 22: Philander Chase [1775-1852]

Chase's story is rather typical for an Episcopal cleric of his generation, at least in terms of background and opportunity.  Like John Henry Hobart from last week's feast days, Chase's career crosses historical paths with my own.

He was born in New Hampshire and educated at Dartmouth [Boo.  Go Princeton Tigers.]  He left the Congregational Church [yay] to become an Episcopalian and shortly afterwards read for Holy Orders.  His career, by all accounts, was peripatetic from that point forward, including starting the first Episcopal Church in New Orleans and serving as the rector of Christ Church in Hartford*.  [Christ Church in Hartford is currently the cathedral of our diocese.]

While establishing a parish and school in Worthington, Ohio [my Dad's hometown], he was called to become the first bishop of Ohio [my home and sponsoring diocese at the beginning of my career].  Among other accomplishments, Chase founded Kenyon College [my niece's alma mater] and it's divinity school [which, if it's still in existence, moved to Rochester, NY sometime in the late 1970's or early 80's].

Much more of him may be read here.

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith: We give you heartfelt thanks for the pioneering spirit of your servant Philander Chase, and for his zeal in opening new frontiers for the ministry of your Church. Grant us grace to minister in Christ's name in every place, led by bold witnesses to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[*An annoying footnote.  I once mentioned to a bishop that Chase should be placed on the feast calendar and that his nomination could be made by Connecticut, as he was once a rector in Hartford.  The bishop, who was against including any more "straight, white men" on the calendar responded, "No, he wasn't."  After I sent him all of the historical information about Chase's position in Hartford, including those taken from the archives of the diocese, he stopped talking to me.  My next job was in another diocese.  Ah, the church.  If we learn anything from the witness of Pusey above, it's that one may love the church more than it loves you.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that Philander Chase is now on the calendar.  That's all that really matters.]

Friday, September 14, 2012

James Harold Flye

It was one of those notices left on the bulletin board in the old lobby of the General Theological Seminary.  A lot of notices tended to get left there; most of them would be ignored even though they invited people to such scintillating events as the Anglo-Catholic Reading Society's cracker and apple cider social, the Gay Hispanic Womyn's self-defense class, or the latest menu from the Cuban-Chinese diner across the street.

It said simply "Retired Priest Needs Help: The Rev. James Harold Flye, retired priest-associate of St. Luke's, Hudson St., would like someone to read the Office of Evening Prayer with him three nights a week."  Father Flye was not someone known to the General Seminary population, not even the faculty, probably because he had graduated nearly seventy years before.  He had been retired, I learned from the Episcopal Clergy Directory [it used to be called "the stud book"] officially since 1954.  As that was twenty-nine years before the notice was posted, he had become just another retiree in the vast sea of Episcopal clergy in Manhattan in those still relatively-affordable years.

But I knew his name, mainly because I was a student of American literature, although Flye's connection to it was through a writer who had been all but forgotten, too.  I took the notice, called the number, spoke with Father Flye's nurse [he was, after all, 99-years-old], and made arrangements to meet with him.

Although I haven't been to that section of Hudson St. in over twenty years, there used to be, and may still be, three rather handsome townhouses that were owned by the parish of St. Luke's.  Flye's residence was in one of them.  He was, as I came to discover, mostly blind and partially deaf; could no longer walk, but was always nattily dressed in a black suit and clergy collar, very much the representation of the men of his time in the Episcopal Church.

We would read the evening office together with me serving as officiant and lector and Fr. Flye joining in on the responses.  He no longer needed to consult a prayer book, knew what the scripture readings were to be, and had all 150 of the psalms memorized.  As flawed as was his body, his mind was sharper, without question, than mine could ever hope to be.

One evening, as we would begin around 5:30pm and conclude no later than 6, he had me stay a little longer to talk about parish ministry and how it had changed.  He told hilarious stories of life as a curate and, later, rector of some parishes in the South, including St. Stephen's in Milledgeville, Georgia, which was notorious as having served as a stable for General Sherman's horses during the Civil War.  Union soldiers had even gone so far as to pour molasses into the organ pipes.

"Some people in this world," said Flye, "are just plain cussed."  [Yankees should understand that's a two syllable word, as in "cuss-sed".]

I put off my major question about his past, though, for some weeks, as I didn't want to seem like another lit major asking prosaic questions about, well, another portion of Flye's life.  One evening in winter, after walking from Chelsea Square down Ninth Avenue to Jimmy Walker Park in the West Village in 15 degree weather, Flye and his nurse invited me to stay after Evening Prayer for some hot chocolate.  It seemed like the right time to ask.

"Father, I was once a high school teacher and hope to work in one of the Episcopal schools one day.  I know you served at St. Andrew's School in Tennessee and wondered if you had any helpful memories of students or...."

"Ah, you want to talk about Jimmy."  He turned to the nurse and smiled.  "He wants to know about Jimmy."  She smiled back at him and then at me and then Fr. Flye told me about Jimmy, the brightest ten-year-old he ever met, and one of St. Andrew's most famous students.

I'd never heard him called Jimmy; he has always been James Agee, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Death in the Family and the father of film criticism in the United States, whose reviews and essays about films graced Time-Life magazines in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  He was also, with John Huston, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of "The African Queen".  Encouraged by his alcoholism, he had died of a heart attack at the age of 45, in the back of a Manhattan cab in 1955.

"As you know from his novel, he lost his father when he was a child," said Flye.  "So, he found two surrogates.  I was the one with whom he talked of educated matters and faith; John Huston was the one with whom he spoke of films and...the drinking."  He spoke for another hour about their friendship until he started to get fatigued, certainly a little wistful, and the nurse signaled to me that it was time to go.  He was asleep before I got my coat on.  I never asked about Agee again.

We continued to read Evening Prayer together for the remainder of the term.  That summer, Flye moved back to the South to spend his final months.  He died in 1984, just a few months shy of his 101st birthday.

His papers were left to Vanderbilt University, which offers this biography.  He is also the editor of a book of correspondence, titled Letters Of James Agee To Father Flye, and a great collection of photographs from his days as an educator.

James Agee's A Death in the Family is still in print and is now a Penguin Classic, although his collected essays about film are also very interesting; so much so that I even got a sermon out of them once upon a time.  Another novel, The Morning Watch, about a boarding school boy keeping the vigil during Holy Week, is out of print, I think, but well worth picking up for a used book price.

Sometimes, when it's the dark of winter with wisps of snow, in the comfort of a warm house, my memory slips back nearly thirty years and I think of Flye, his student, and those whom I have served as a teacher.  I hope I served them with at least one-tenth the intention and faith as he served his.  Especially the one who broke his heart.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What He Said

After some charming moments with his daughter, Minneapolis columnist James Lileks catches fire:

"I can't stand these "preachers" who've made a career out defining the acceptable parameters of Christianity down to a sliver so thin it makes dental floss look like transatlantic telegraph cable. I believe God has set aside a special room for the Westboro Baptist Church people, where it's always 104 degrees, which is what they deserve: a really lame hell. I believe there's actually a place where a Catholic, a Mormon, and a Muslim could sit around in the break room and talk about Star Trek, and that place is called - what's the word? It'll come to me. Damn.

Right: America."

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Professor Sid Watkins, the neurosurgeon who did more than anyone to make Formula One a safer sport, has died at the age of 84.

"...and two others."

I'm watching one of the redoubtable [that's a good word, btw] town crew members lower the flag on the green to half mast and getting a little wistful. While the news is still incomplete, I understand two Marines were killed in Libya as well. I guess they will remain nameless in the media.  Perhaps they haven't completed notifying their families, or they haven't yet located their remains.  Maybe it's because reporters and Marines don't go to the same cocktail parties, unlike reporters and ambassadors.  Maybe I'm just a big cynic.

The first land-based duty of the USMC was to protect US embassies; it must be difficult to have to trust that considerable job to the local military, especially in light of the shifting allegiances that are often encountered in some parts of the world.  While popular entertainment has made a burlesque out of military devotion, and those who practice such are often lampooned as dullards or fascistic simpletons, the truth [if anyone still cares about such a thing] is that they remind me of the best contractors I've retained during my career:  They show up on time and with the right equipment to get a job done.  They use every bit of experience, ingenuity, and just plain muscle to complete what it is they have been hired to do.  As the military's job is one that encounters mortality and all of its horror, they also tend to form a tight community of trust and mutual respect, common to military members throughout history and across cultures.

In the press they are simply, "...and two others."

Update:  This really makes it much worse - No Live Ammo for Marines.  Swell.

Thursday's Prayer

This is an interesting one, as it comes from the earliest known text of a Eucharistic Prayer.  It is so early that Christians were still, at that point, considered to be Jews:

Blessed be the Lord, King of the Universe, who created All things, apportioned food, appointed drink
For all the children of flesh with which they shall be satisfied
But granted to us, human beings, to partake of the food
Of the myriads of his angelic bodies. For all this
We have to bless with songs in the gatherings of [the] people

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Obituary Of Note

I wish I had noted it earlier, as I once presented this fellow's work at a clergy conference when I suggested that pastoral counseling was following the same unfortunate course as secular counsel.  I really need to learn how to go along to get along, as I was roundly shunned for daring to suggest such a thing.

Thomas Szasz Dead at 92

My favorite quotation from the obit:

Szasz argued tirelessly that psychiatric labels, as nothing more than names attached to sets of behavioral criteria, should not be used to strip people of their freedom or relieve them of their responsibility. Defenders of mental-health orthodoxy dismiss this critique more often than they address it, but even when they engage Szasz's arguments they cannot refute his crucial point about the arbitrariness and subjectivity of psychiatric taxonomy.

Archaeological News

Excavations in Jaffa confirm presence of Egyptian settlement on the ancient city site

Of Course

NBC’s ‘Today’ Skips 9/11 Moment Of Silence For Kardashian Interview

Monday, September 10, 2012

Now You Know How I Feel About Sunday Morning Sports

Atheists bummed by Democrats' God flip

This Week's Feast Days

September 10th: Alexander Crummell [1819-1898]

Crummell was the founder of the Union of Black Episcopalians.  Shortly after being educated by the Episcopal Church of the United States he moved to the Church of England.  After being further educated by the C. of E., he moved to Liberia, where he hoped to become the bishop/president of a black Christian republic.  That didn't work out, so he then moved back to the United States, where he worked as a parish priest in the District of Columbia. 

He left behind little written work; no scholarly articles of his are available, or even listed, online.  A half-dozen or so of his sermons are to be found, though.  The best known is probably "Common Sense in Common Schooling", based on Proverbs 9: 12.  If it appears to be more of a speech than a sermon, understand that was Crummell's style and was reflective of the standard of his age.

At the request of the UBE and its supporters, Crummell was added to the calendar in 1994.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

September 12: John Henry Hobart [1775-1830]

Without too much debate, Hobart is considered by many as the greatest churchman of his generation.  Certainly, without his endeavors, neither I nor half of my family would have received the formal education that we have enjoyed.

From the Diocese of Central New York's website:

After the American Revolution and the Independence of the United States, the Episcopal Church, under public suspicion in many quarters because of its previous association with the British government, did very little for about twenty years. John Hobart was one of the men who changed this.
John Henry Hobart was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 14 September 1775, the son of a ship's captain. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, ordained deacon in 1798 and priest in 1801. Called as assistant minister to Trinity Church, New York, in 1803, at age 36 he was elected assistant bishop of the diocese in 1811, becoming diocesan in 1816.
To look at John Henry Hobart, you wouldn't have predicted greatness. Height always distinguishes, and he was notably short. Blessed with attractive blue eyes, he was nearsighted and forced to wear thick glasses. In an age of marmoreal gestures in the pulpit, he was melodramatic. At a time of dignified eloquence, he spoke rapidly, with emotion. When most men were reserved, even with their families, he was warm, whether with ambassadors or farmers, to the point of being thought odd.
Most bishops were content if they bestirred themselves for episcopal acts a hundred miles from home. Hobart had the energy of ten men: horses dropped under his exertions and he thought nothing of a winter visitation of 2,000 miles in western New York or 4,000 at a more seasonal time.
Early in his career he tackled publicly issues still dubious in the American mind: episcopacy and apostolic succession, arguably besting in print a redoubtable Presbyterian opponent.
He founded two institutions: a college in Geneva (later Hobart College) and General Theological Seminary in New York City, breaking his health to get both off the ground.
He not only looked after the Diocese of New York (46,000 square miles and virtual wilderness west and north of Albany) he served as rector of Trinity Parish, the wealthiest and most influential church in the country. Agreeing to oversee the diocese of Connecticut, since its high- and low-church party roils had prevented the election of a bishop, he covered its parishes more thoroughly than any bishop ever had. New Jersey, similarly bishopless, appealed to him, and he looked after it as well.
He knew all the clergy in the Church generally and in his own diocese intimately. He was aware of their background, remembered their families, forgave their frailties, and appreciated their strengths. He watched over his candidates for Holy Orders with a paternal interest, meeting with them weekly.
His instinct for politics never overrode his principles. Once convinced of the rightness of his position, no wave of unpopularity would budge him. His friends adored him and even his enemies credited him with frankness and fearlessness. He held no grudges and played no games, two qualities that endeared him to many. In a turbulent New York State election for governor, a common saying was that only Hobart would have been easily elected.
He took 26 clergy at the beginning of his episcopate in 1811 and quintupled them to 133 by his death; watched the number of parishes increase from about 50 to almost 170; and confirmed roughly 15,000.
This lovable, indefatigable, type-A bishop went virtually nonstop from his ordination until his death. The only surprise was that he didn't die sooner. At midnight, September 7, 1830, a young clergyman rode in a stage through Auburn on his way to Binghamton. Passing the rectory of St. Peter's Church, he was puzzled to see a light so late. He rapped for the stage to stop and soon learned from the rector, John Rudd, that Bishop Hobart was ill. Francis Cumming remained to assist in any way he could.
Hobart's illness wasn't that surprising. Troubled for years with what was most likely a bleeding ulcer, with rest and medication he would generally rebound. In Auburn he had preached and confirmed and other than a slight cold, seemed fine. But soon the serious nature of his attack became clear and he cancelled the remainder of his visitation. Over the next few days, he frequently requested to hear portions of Lancelot Andrewes's litany, in which he would join.
The third bishop of New York is buried under the chancel of Trinity Church, New York.

Revive your Church, Lord God of hosts, whenever it falls into complacency and sloth, by raising up devoted leaders, like your servant John Henry Hobart whom we remember this day; and grant that their faith and vigor of mind may awaken your people to your message and their mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

September 13: St. Cyprian of Carthage [c. 250-258]

Two years after he was baptized, Cyprian became the bishop of Carthage in northern Africa.  Yes, they did things rather quickly in the 3rd century.  During a vicious persecution by the Roman emperor, Cyprian, rather than face certain death by creative torture, "bravely ran away".  [With apologies to Monty Python for that paraphrase from "...and the Holy Grail."]

He received much criticism for this, yet remained a bishop and served as a champion for those who had recanted their faith rather than face their own slaughter and that of their nearest and dearest.  Cyprian prescribed both a form of probation and some direct penance for those who wished to rejoin the flock.  What he prescribed for himself is not known by the sources I consulted. 

As was common for clergy of his day, he was involved in various theological disputes, more of which may be read of here.

When the second wave of persecutions came, Cyprian did not adjourn to the hills, as it were, but instead faced his persecutors and paid the martyr's price for such defiance. 

Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Knew It!

'Fitness and fatness': Not all obese people have the same prognosis

The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we hear of the benefits of a good name from Proverbs, gain some wisdom from James, and Jesus meets maybe the cleverest people of the coastline.

The lections may be found here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Max Perkins

When I first moved to Manhattan at the age of 25, there were some sights that I wanted to see.  Not the usual ones, like the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty, not that there's anything wrong with viewing those, but there were places of more esoteric history that claimed my curiosity.

CBGB, The Mudd Club, and The Bitter End were among the collection, as they were places strongly identified with the music I favored at the time.  Just about anything on Bleeker Street, as anyone familiar with post-war, "Beat Generation" literature could recognize locations featured in those stories.  Let's see, the J.J. Hat Center, then on Herald Square, mainly because I received a catalog from them every so often.  [Why? I never knew.]  The original Abecrombie and Fitch, back when they sold fishing and hunting equipment rather than pan-sexual clothing of questionable taste.  The offices of the Village Voice.  The music stores on "guitar alley".  I'm sure I could think of others if I put my mind to it.

Certainly, though, one of the sites was the Scribner bookstore and its adjacent offices on Fifth Avenue. 

It became a Benetton store around the time I moved from Manhattan.  I don't know what it is now, but I'm sure it sells some equally useless nonsense.  In my day, it was a place that understood the spiritual and liberating nature of books; like a small temple of literacy.

But it was the offices that particularly attracted me, because once upon a time, in the glory days of American literature in the first half of the 20th century, up those narrow stairs would ascend the literary lions who shared not only the same publisher, but the same editor.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and many others were nurtured in their art by Maxwell Perkins [pictured up top].  He was so precise and helpful that even Hemingway's notorious ego surrendered to Perkins' suggestions, including chopping away nearly one-third of The Sun Also Rises.

Just walking up those antique steps to the Scribners' offices seemed like a self-guided museum tour, leading to the same hallway where the distinctive voice of literature in the American Century was wrought.  My first visit I was lost in a rapture of letters until a security guard stopped me and asked my business.  When I explained why I was there he said, "Oh, you're one of those."

Of Perkins, more may be read here.  There is also a very good biography, titled Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in 20th century American literature and what went on behind the scenes in the vintage publishing world. 

One of Perkins' letters to a young writer included this quotation, which reflects what was important in capturing the American experience in prose:  "I think, in truth, that the best writing of all is done long after the events it is concerned with, when they have been digested and reflected upon unconsciously, and the writer has completely realized them in himself."

The Great Gatsby, A Farewell to Arms, Look Homeward, Angel, and The Yearling all reflect this wisdom.  See how gracefully balanced is Lardner's short story "Haircut" to really appreciate what a storyteller and an editor can create when working in harmony.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thursday's Prayer

O Sovereign and almighty Lord, bless all thy people, and all thy flock. Give thy peace, thy help, thy love unto us thy servants, the sheep of thy fold, that we may be united in the bond of peace and love, one body and one spirit, in one hope of our calling, in thy divine and boundless love.  - the dismissal from the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, circa 2nd Century.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's Time To Play "Where's Desmond?"

Apple rejects Drones+, app to track U.S. drone strikes

Yes, if that knowledge got out it might embarrass a government or two.

How do you introduce recess to kids who have never left the classroom?

The Rebirth of Recess

The anti-recess philosophy of public school bureaucrats coupled with the delusional government food pyramid collided to help create childhood obesity. Both will be difficult for the functionaries to surrender.

Archaeological News

Church where King Richard III was buried found beneath parking lot

Clearly The Time Has Come For Styrofoam Control

Man accused of attacking brother with Styrofoam plate

Petty Bureaucrat Alert!

So, after the Vienna United Methodist church posted three messages one day last month —offering refuge from the heat, then promoting its Web site and finally listing the time of a group prayer meeting — a zoning inspector called it a sin and hit the church with a warning letter:

“It is noted that the screens changed more than twice in a twenty-four (24) hour period,” the letter stated. “This changeable copy LED sign is considered a prohibited sign.”

The county offered two choices: permanently limit the sign to two message changes per day or remove it altogether.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday's Quotation

“Faith” in biblical terms is never a bare decision, or a general “spiritual” approach to life. It is always defined by its content, and the content of saving faith must be Jesus Christ. It is therefore certainly not enough to assume that anyone with however vague a “religious” approach to life must be a Christian in disguise; some of Jesus’ harshest words were reserved precisely for the “religious” people of his day.
- N.T. Wright, sometime Bishop of Durham [UK]

In other words, if you feel that you are "spiritual" but not "religious", and define this by holding vague and superficial notions, mostly a hodgepodge of things overheard, repeated by another, or seen in a greeting card or book by a celebrity, you may only be some sort of puffin.

Monday, September 3, 2012

This Week's Feast Days

Well, "feast day", actually, as there is only one this week.

September 4th: Paul Jones, Bishop of Utah -

Jones was the bishop of Utah during the First World War. He was a pacifist who well-represented that demographic in the Episcopal Church. He resigned as bishop the year of US entry into WWI, feeling that his theological perspective was insufficiently supported by his diocese and the greater church. After leaving the see of Utah, he continued to work for peace for two decades until his death a few months before Pearl Harbor.

There are some representations of his life available, mainly composed by those strongly opposed to war in any circumstance, even the Augustinian notion of "just war", that prefer to present the resigned Jones as a victim of the powerful, wealthy, and war-mongering. I'm particularly amused by the notion that he was "silenced" once he resigned as diocesan bishop. As one remains a bishop for life, it is not as if his ordination was negated or that his membership in the House of Bishops ceased.

Certainly, as anyone who has ever spent even a millisecond near the echelons of power in the Episcopal Church knows, there is absolutely no such thing as a silent bishop.

[I also reject the notion, common to Jones' biographies, that only bishops have a voice and the rest of us are relegated to silence. Really, is that what Jesus taught us? Please.  There are and have been a great number of influential clergy and laity who were not members of the House of Bishops, yet altered their world for the better.]

It may be heresy to note that Jones was a little vague in his opposition to war from a practical point of view. From one of his sermons before his resignation, he stated that, "I believe most sincerely that German brutality and aggression must be stopped and I am willing, if need be, to give my life and what I possess, to bring that about...I have been led to feel that war is entirely incompatible with the Christian profession. . . Moreover, because Germany has ignored her solemn obligations, Christians are not justified in treating the sermon on the mount as a scrap of paper." [The Witness, March 2002]

You see, I get confused as to how one combats German aggression, even to the point of self-sacrifice, yet not through some type of conflict. Perhaps he meant through prayer alone, although that is usually not a mortal activity. I think some of Jones' contemporaries were confused, too, although it should be noted that history generally states that the majority of his diocesan clergy and laity supported him. If he had been willing to stand up to those who opposed him, odds are he would have been successful and his message made more compelling. However, fighting even the good fight seemed to be something Jones decided to do in a passive manner.

While he was not a martyr, person of letters, mystic, or monastic, and lived a life that was quiet and comfortable, in a nod to the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, which was, in its original form, founded by Bishop Jones, he has been included on the calendar.

Merciful God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in this and every land witnesses who, after the example of your servant Paul Jones, will stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.